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Facing subprime reality

BEFORE THE financial collapse in 2008, I lived in the most economically powerful country in the world, and that was all I really needed to know.

BEFORE THE financial collapse in 2008, I lived in the most economically powerful country in the world, and that was all I really needed to know.

Now, as the nation struggles to rebuild and the job market still suffers, paying attention to the economy, and complaining about it, takes up much of my free time.

I received a bachelor of arts degree from an Ivy League university in 2007, and when I came home from teaching English abroad in the summer of 2008, my bubble burst. It now seems that the exact same problems caused by the subprime mortgages are waiting for the next round of defaulters - college graduates with mountains of student-loan debt.

To anyone without the privilege of having a college degree, I'm sure I sound like a spoiled brat.

They may claim that, despite the debt, I'm still better off for having a diploma.

But as my 25th birthday approaches, I, like most of my bachelor's-holding friends, still live at home. None of us can even begin to dream of buying a house, but our peers who can have been working at a specialized trade since high school. While we were amassing thousands of dollars of debt for four years, these people gained experience and managed to save enough to buy houses. Who is better off, a 25-year-old living at home with a $120,000 IOU, or one who owns some property, however modest?

For those from humble beginnings, the B.A. is more of a luxury item than a professional foundation.During one of the first days of my freshman orientation, our entire class was shown a giant graph detailing how much money we could expect to make after graduation.

We liberal-arts students had our doubts but were assured that our majors would not impede our future financial success. We were told that employers look for men and women with sophisticated analytical and problem-solving abilities.

Four years later, we emerged as hard-working, creative people, but quickly learned that to land a job that becomes a career, you need a practical skill. Being able to spout the details of the Norman conquest of England gets you nowhere. Geez.

We have thousands of dollars worth of education, but as far as the working world is concerned, we can't really do anything. On paper, I may look overqualified for my current office job, but in reality, I lack one big necessity: administrative training. I can whip out Word documents all day long, but if you need me to do a mail merge or create a database query, you're out of luck. (It's a shame Facebook mastery isn't part of the job.)

Once upon a time for the lower middle class, changing your station in life was inextricably tied to education. Graduates like me are just trying to get a piece of the pie that was promised us, but a college diploma no longer guarantees a lucrative job. Borrowed funds let me receive a college education, but that's based on the outdated assumption that your degree will secure the means to pay the money back. As a friend put it, it's "looked at as good debt because they know you'll get a good job after college and can pay them back."

We're now in a transitional period where this is no longer the case. You can spend $40,000 a year on tuition but come out making $30,000 - if you're lucky.

Now, lending money to those who couldn't afford college otherwise may be dangerous for the borrowers. Smothered by debt and not making enough to justify the loans, young adults are starting their lives unable to envision a time when they'll be able to save enough money to actually live them.

FOR LOWER-income students, working toward the American Dream is in reality keeping that dream at bay.

There are two options: Take your chances in an uncertain job market, or, as we've been taught, go for more schooling to make more money. Either way, it's risky.

Without knowing if I can ever repay it all, I'm now going to borrow more this fall to go to law school.

No one is telling me I can't, and maybe they should be.

Marie-Theres DiFillippo is struggling with reality in Northeast Philadelphia. She can be reached at